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Red Lobster Found Potentially Liable To Customer For Injury From Fall On Oily Steps

By on September 4, 2020 in Negligence with 0 Comments

The plaintiff, Mia Alers-Alvira, was leaving the Red Lobster restaurant when she slipped and fell on the last of three steps that led to the entrance/exit pathway of the Red Lobster.  She claimed that she fell on the oily residue on these concrete steps.  In the case of Alers-Alvira v. Red Lobster Restaurant, Inc., 2020 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1610 (App. Div. August 19, 2020), the issue was whether the defendant Red Lobster could be held liable for its knowledge that pedestrian foot traffic left an oily residue on its steps but failed to follow its own protocol on the day of the fall to inspect its steps.

The plaintiff, who was 24 years old at the time of the accident, had lunch at the Red Lobster restaurant in Secaucus, New Jersey.   A customer can enter the restaurant by either walking up three steps constructed out of gray concrete or using a ramp adjacent to the steps.  The plaintiff testified that she used the stairs when she entered the restaurant at about 1:00 p.m. and then again when she left at 1:50.  She described the weather as misting.  As she was going down the steps, when she put her foot on the last step, she slipped.  When the plaintiff turned around to raise her hand to get up, the step felt like it had a filmy, oily residue on it, like someone had poured oil on there.

The manager of the restaurant testified that, as part of his duties, he inspected the property on a daily basis to make sure that everything looked okay.  He admitted that his duties included keeping the premises of the restaurant safe and maintaining the outside steps and adjacent ramp that lead to the entrance.  Every Monday, they had a company power wash the exterior of the restaurant, including the steps.  The manager testified that the steps at times did have a “filmy, oily residue,” a grease that came from patron’s shoes because this was a “highly trafficked area.”  He never had any prior complaints about the condition of the steps, except when it was raining or showing.

The plaintiff retained the services of a consulting engineer as an expert, Michael Natoli.  Mr. Natoli inspected the steps and concluded that “the prior filmy, oily residue coating in the stairway areas and lack of proper nosing delineation, are causes of the plaintiff’s injury.”  He also opined that “the lack of proper maintenance afforded to the stairway areas yielded unsafe conditions for pedestrians.”

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and, the judge dismissed the case as to Red Lobster.  The judge found that while Red Lobster had control over the steps and was responsible to clean it, there were no facts presented to the court that the defendant had notice of any defect on the date of the plaintiff’s fall.  With respect to the grease, the judge found that there was no indication that the grease accumulated on the steps.

The Appellate Division reversed.  It found that the manager acknowledged that the pedestrian foot traffic left an oily residue on the steps leading to the restaurant’s entrance.  He testified that he visually inspected the steps on a daily basis and had an outside company power wash that area including the steps and that the restaurant required the employees to keep the area free from snow and ice during the winter.  However, the manager was not at work on the day of the accident and there was no evidence that another employee assumed his responsibilities, including reviewing the condition of the steps on the date of the accident.

Thus, the Appellate Division held that a jury could find that Red Lobster was aware that the steps to its restaurant could become hazardous from the oily residue left behind by the customer’s shoes.  Further, a jury could find that Red Lobster was negligent when it failed to designate an employee to inspect the steps in the manager’s absence and, last, that it could find that this omission was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s accident. 

Therefore, the Court concluded that there was enough in the record for plaintiff to survive summary judgment.  Thus, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for trial.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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